When I started writing this editorial about my experience as a Lebanese emigrant, I froze for few minutes and did not know what to write. Getting asked by the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU) to write the editorial by itself is a great honor. Writing something of worth to match only a sliver of the achievements of the WLCU is an even greater task. As I embarked into this journey, I said to myself that this is probably going to be one of the most challenging tasks; especially with the ongoing turmoil in Lebanon.
All of a sudden, a series of positive memories started rolling in front of my eyes and washed away the negative thoughts. The chain of events and past experiences led me to January 1, 1985 when I arrived at the University of Alabama coming from Lebanon carrying one piece of luggage, my Lebanese passport, and a hole in my heart which I had left back home. I did not know that the next few hours would present a positive experience that would be engraved in my mind until the day I die. The feelings associated with that experience occurred one more time in my life when I attended my first WLCU conference in Victoria, Canada several years ago. An experience that made me so proud of not only being a Lebanese but also lucky to have experienced a example of how the Lebanese emigrants are such a great source of hope to those living in Lebanon and abroad!
Walking down the University strip with rain drops falling on my shoulders, I could see a glimpse of the International House where I was supposed to report at. Having struggled for months in Beirut before I made it out of the ailing country Lebanon to come to the United States with few hundred dollars in pocket, nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my dreams as a Lebanese American.
I walked into the International House and introduced myself to Mr. Greg; the admission officer. As soon as I said that I came from Lebanon, he reached for his desk phone, called someone, and said:” Hi, one of your fellow Lebanese young men is here”. Within 15 minutes, I saw a Chevrolet stopping in front of the International House. A young man got out of the car and hollered:”Alloush! Ahla wsahla!” This young man swiftly reached for my luggage, picked it up, and put it in his car. Standing there and hearing the Lebanese accent that I had not heard for the last two days while travelling through strange lands was such a great relief! He assured me that I was in good hands with a wonderful group of Lebanese people. Every time I expressed my sincere appreciation he would say no worries and would say that there was no need to even mention his name. He said he was only paying back by paying forward! For this reason, I will continue to refer to him as the Lebanese “young man”.
We arrived to his apartment to find over ten Lebanese people waiting for us. I will never forget that diverse group of Lebanese new friends: Sunnis, Shia, Christian, Druze,…. all sitting together. For the whole three weeks following my arrival, they fought not only over who would be my host, but they also helped me to obtain my first driver license, made me familiar with the campus, and explained the university academic rules in details. I sat there being mesmerized by how well they treated me and talked with each other! As soon as I settled down and moved to my own apartment, I joined them in welcoming the new students coming from Lebanon. I wanted the new students coming from Lebanon to feel the same way I did. I wanted them to know how Lebanon back home can and should be!
Why did I have the urge to share this personal story? In my perspective, Lebanon is great not because of its history and climate but because of its genuine and nice people.
Lebanon is great because at every single moment there is a Lebanese somewhere around the world making a difference and impacting someone else’s life. From that day, I decided to look for the positive Lebanese people who love Lebanon and decided to connect with those who love humanity even more. Lebanon’s history is a high bar that we should always strive to reach for. It is a great history that deserves a great present and a greater future. It is not only a privilege to be a Lebanese but also is a noble responsibility.
Nothing is more uplifting to my spirit than seeing a successful Lebanese women and men soaring with their heads up high but also grounded with humility and guided by their love to their fellow human beings.
For Lebanon where I took my first breath as an infant, I say I will never forget you. For the United States of America, where I consider home I say I am proud and grateful. For WLCU I say thank you for giving me the opportunity to live the same positive experience all over again.